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Battambang villagers say authorities torched homes in land dispute

Battambang villagers say authorities torched homes in land dispute

VILLAGERS in Battambang province’s Kos Krala district have accused government officials of destroying three homes in the district’s Doun Ba commune last week as part of a long-running land dispute.

Hourn Bourn, 63, said that on March 7, local officials travelled to her commune and told the families living in the houses to move off the land or face forced relocation.

On Wednesday, Hourn Bourn said, government officials of unspecified office and rank returned to make good on the threat.

“A group of about seven men, wielding three guns and a bulldozer, came to the village to burn down two houses and dismantled another one,” Hourn Bourn said Sunday.

A group of about seven men... came to the village to burn down two houses.

Touch Vandy, 42, also of Doun Ba, said the incident was the result of a dispute that began in 2006, when district officials announced plans to build a road to develop the area and connect it to Koh Kong province. Though the Kos Krala district Committee of Land Dispute Resolution has been called to mediate on numerous occasions, Touch Vandy said the committee was sympathetic to business interests and thus biased against the villagers.
“That committee has intervened many times in an effort to help solve the dispute, but their intervention has never been fruitful,” Touch Vandy said.
Kos Krala district police inspector Lay Nan rejected the villagers’ allegations.

The homes that were destroyed, he said, were uninhabited dwellings that villagers had cleared themselves to increase the size of their farmland.
Kos Krala district governor Sin Nha said only that the case was “very complicated”, and that he had transferred it to Battambang provincial authorities for arbitration.

Provincial officials could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Villagers said that in 1999, the government granted 415 families formerly associated with the Khmer Rouge a total of 1,672 hectares of land in Doun Ba commune, including the land on which the three homes were destroyed.

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